A President  needs a clear sense of what U.S. interests are, a decent understanding of how international politics works, a sound knowledge of the basic mechanics of international trade, a certain empathy for how others view the world even if one doesn’t share their views, and enough consistency to elicit reliable cooperation from others over time. A President also needs the discipline and management skills to assemble the right team, set clear priorities, and not be thrown off course by unexpected events.

A a good foreign policy is one that serves America’s interests, that is, the security of the nation and the prosperity of its people, and a good American foreign policy President is one who understanding this, acts according, rather than pursuing idealistic fantasies. America’s interests change in different times and places, so realism means different things to different Presidents, and encompasses a broad range of policies. But realism does not mean an open-ended war on a strategy, terrorism, nor does it mean constant interventionism aimed at changing the domestic institutions of other countries.

As we start 2018 and approach the anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration, the foreign policy assessments of his first year are coming in. Trump doctrine may come to be understood as retreating from the front. By virtue of his style and temperament, President  Trump has complicated U.S. diplomacy, and lowered America’s standing in the world at least temporarily. And 2018 could bring momentous White House decisions on issues like North Korea and Iran. The biggest problem with the Trump administration’s foreign policy is that the Trump team has made zero investment in foreign policy agencies and multilateral structures. U.S. credibility is already one area where Trump’s tweets have damaged American interests: Two things stand out about the foreign policy messages Mr. Trump has posted on Twitter since taking office: How far they veer from the traditional ways American presidents express themselves, let alone handle diplomacy. And how rarely Mr. Trump has followed through on his words. Indeed, nearly a year after he entered the White House, the rest of the world is trying to figure out whether Mr. Trump is more mouth than fist, more paper tiger than the real thing. While allies do not necessarily take his Twitter posts as policy pronouncements, they still create significant confusion. Even in areas where allies agree, for example, on the threat posed by North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Un, allies have a hard time understanding the real policy line from Washington.

For Richard Haass, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, the most nonpartisan foreign policy group in existence, his  assessment of Trump’s first year in office is far more critical: Support for alliances, embrace of free trade, concern over climate change, championing of democracy and human rights, American leadership per se these and other fundamentals of American foreign policy have been questioned and, more than once, rejected. Trump is the first post-World War II American president to view the burdens of world leadership as outweighing the benefits. As a result, the United States has changed from the principal preserver of order to a principal disrupter. This change has major implications. It will make it far more difficult to deal with the challenges posed by globalization, including climate change and nuclear proliferation, to regulate cyberspace on terms compatible with American interests, or to help relieve the plight of refugees on terms consistent with American values. It will make it more difficult to build frameworks that promote trade and investment and to ensure that the United States benefits from them. This raises a larger, related point. There must be a presumption of continuity in the foreign policy of a great power if allies are to remain allied and if foes are to be deterred. Unpredictability may on occasion make sense as a tactic, but not as a strategy. The many departures introduced or threatened by the Trump administration (most recently extending to both the NAFTA agreement and the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran) create doubts as to U.S. reliability. This is not meant as an argument for standing pat in foreign policy. The world is changing and U.S. foreign policy must change with it. The argument, though, is that the international project should be a renovation based on the existing order, not a teardown. 

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